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Depth Therapy, Psychoanalytic Tradition, and Identity

Depth Therapy, Psychoanalytic Tradition, and Identity

Kevin William Grant
November 08, 2023

The goal of depth therapy is to achieve insight and integration, helping the individual to become aware of the parts of themselves that have been pushed out of conscious awareness and to integrate these aspects to achieve a more balanced and fulfilling life. 

Depth therapy, also known as depth psychology, refers to a range of therapeutic practices based on the theories of psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and others who were part of the psychoanalytic tradition. These approaches focus on the unconscious mind and aim to bring its contents to the conscious mind through various techniques. The underlying belief is that many psychological problems stem from unresolved conflicts, traumas, or issues that are buried deep within the unconscious.

When someone refers to depth therapy that addresses root causes, they are talking about a therapeutic approach that does not just manage symptoms but aims to understand and treat the underlying psychological issues that lead to distress or dysfunctional behavior. This form of therapy often involves:

  • Exploration of the Unconscious: Techniques such as dream analysis, free association, and exploration of fantasies can reveal the unconscious content at the root of a person's issues.
  • Identification of Complexes: In Jungian psychology, a complex is a core pattern of emotions, memories, perceptions, and wishes in the personal unconscious organized around a common theme. Recognizing these can help in understanding personal psychological make-up.
  • Analysis of Transference and Countertransference: This involves examining the relationship between the therapist and the client, where the client may transfer feelings from previous significant relationships onto the therapist, and the therapist may have emotional reactions to the client, which can reveal the client's relational patterns.
  • Working with Trauma: Depth therapy may involve working through past trauma that has been repressed or dissociated from conscious awareness.
  • Personal History: Understanding an individual's history, including childhood experiences, can profoundly impact their current psychological state.
  • Existential Factors: Some depth therapists may explore existential questions about meaning, purpose, and death with their clients.
  • Cultural and Social Factors: Depth psychology can also involve looking at the broader cultural and social factors that shape an individual's experiences and subconscious beliefs.

The goal of depth therapy is to achieve insight and integration, helping the individual to become aware of the parts of themselves that have been pushed out of conscious awareness and to integrate these aspects to achieve a more balanced and fulfilling life. By addressing the root causes of psychological distress, depth therapy aims for long-lasting change rather than temporary symptom relief. It is generally a longer-term therapy compared to more symptom-focused therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Below are some references for further reading on depth therapy and the theoretical underpinnings related to addressing root causes in psychotherapy:

"The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry" by Henri Ellenberger

  • This book is a detailed historical account of the origins and development of dynamic psychiatry, which includes depth psychology and psychoanalysis. It covers the contributions of Freud, Jung, Adler, and others in the field.

"Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic Thought" by Stephen A. Mitchell and Margaret J. Black

  • This work provides an overview of psychoanalytic theory after Freud, including the different schools of thought and their approaches to the unconscious.

"Memories, Dreams, Reflections" by C.G. Jung (Author), Aniela Jaffé (Editor), Clara Winston (Translator), Richard Winston (Translator)

  • Jung’s autobiography offers insights into his personal life, the development of his theories, and the essence of his approach to depth psychology.

"Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science" by Sonu Shamdasani

  • This volume examines the historical context of Jung’s work and the development of his concepts of the collective unconscious and archetypes.

"Man and His Symbols" by Carl G. Jung

  • This text introduces Jung's theory of the unconscious and how it communicates with the conscious mind through symbols, often revealed in dreams and art.

"Object Relations Theory and Clinical Psychoanalysis" by Otto F. Kernberg

  • Kernberg’s work is fundamental for understanding object relations theory, which emphasizes the importance of early relationships and the structures that arise from them within the psyche.

"The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy" by Irvin D. Yalom

  • Yalom, while not exclusively a depth psychologist, often integrates existential and depth psychology perspectives in his work on group therapy, discussing how the process can address underlying issues.

"The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defences of the Personal Spirit" by Donald Kalsched

  • This book explores the world of trauma and its effect on the personality, presenting a Jungian perspective on how the psyche defends itself against traumatic experiences.

Depth therapy's decline in recent decades can be attributed to several factors, but its resurgence indicates a renewed interest in its comprehensive approach to mental health. The waning of depth therapy's prominence was partly due to the increased demand for brief, symptom-focused treatments, which often align with the preferences of insurance companies for cost-effectiveness and the ability to provide measurable outcomes in shorter periods (Shedler, 2010). Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) gained favor due to their structured approach and substantial empirical support (Hofmann et al., 2012). Furthermore, the medical model's emphasis on pharmacological interventions often overshadowed the more time-intensive psychoanalytic techniques that explore the unconscious (Ghaemi, 2009).

However, the complex nature of mental health issues has led many to acknowledge that symptom relief does not equate to addressing the root causes of psychological distress, prompting a resurgence of interest in-depth therapy. Recent literature suggests that while CBT and other forms of short-term therapy are effective for many disorders, the effects of psychodynamic therapy may be longer-lasting and extend beyond symptom remission (Leichsenring et al., 2013). This suggests that depth therapies, which aim to uncover and work through the underlying psychological roots of distress, can lead to more profound and enduring changes.

The field of neuroscience has also lent support to some of the foundational concepts of depth therapy. Advances in understanding the brain's functioning have highlighted the significance of early experiences and attachment in shaping neural pathways, offering a neurobiological framework that corresponds with the psychoanalytic focus on childhood experiences and their lasting impact (Schore, 2012). Moreover, societal changes, including a growing acceptance of mental health struggles and a greater appreciation for holistic and integrative approaches to wellness, have also played a role in the renewed interest in depth therapy (Norcross & Wampold, 2011).

Depth therapy, including various forms of psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy, indeed saw a decline in popularity with the rise of other therapeutic modalities, especially from the latter half of the 20th century onwards. Several factors contributed to depth therapy being somewhat overlooked, and its recent resurgence can also be attributed to various trends and changes in the mental health field.

Reasons for Decline in Interest:
  • Time and Cost: Depth therapy is often a longer and more intensive process than other forms of therapy. It requires a significant time commitment from both the therapist and the patient, which can be costly. Insurance companies may be reluctant to cover long-term therapy, favoring shorter-term, evidence-based treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
  • Empirical Evidence: There has been an increasing demand for evidence-based practices in psychology. Therapies like CBT have substantial empirical research backing their efficacy, making them more appealing to the scientific community and those seeking treatment.
  • Medical Model Dominance: The medical model in psychiatry, which emphasizes biological factors and often treats symptoms with medication, became dominant. This model only sometimes acknowledges the unconscious factors that depth therapies focus on.
  • Cultural Shifts: There’s been a shift towards quick fixes in society, mirroring the broader cultural desire for immediate results. This shift is at odds with the slow and often subtle progress characteristic of depth therapy.
  • Training and Expertise: Depth therapy requires practitioners to undergo extensive and often expensive training. As the demand for quicker, more structured therapies grew, fewer practitioners pursued training in depth modalities.
Reasons for Resurgence in Interest:
  • Holistic Approaches: There is a growing trend towards holistic and integrated care in mental health. People are increasingly interested in therapies that consider the whole person — body, mind, and spirit—and depth therapy fits well within this paradigm.
  • Complexity of Issues: Some practitioners and patients have found that while symptom-focused treatments can be very effective, they only sometimes address the complex, underlying issues that may be at the root of a person's distress. Depth therapy’s focus on the unconscious and developmental experiences can offer more comprehensive treatment.
  • Cultural and Societal Challenges: As societal issues become more complex, there’s an acknowledgment that simple solutions may not be sufficient. Depth therapy offers a way to work through the existential and deep-seated psychological issues that arise in a rapidly changing world.
  • Integration of Techniques: Contemporary depth therapists often integrate other therapeutic techniques, making the approach more accessible and less time-consuming. This includes shorter-term psychodynamic approaches that have been developed and researched.
  • Research: A growing body of research supports the efficacy of psychodynamic therapy, which may be contributing to its resurgence.
  • Public Perception: With increased public awareness and acceptance of mental health issues, there’s also a growing interest in understanding the deeper aspects of one’s psyche and personal growth, not just managing symptoms.
  • Neuroscience: Advances in neuroscience have shown the importance of attachment, early life experiences, and emotional processing, which are often explored in depth therapy.

Depth therapy is experiencing a resurgence due to a combination of increased interest in holistic approaches, recognition of the complexity of mental health issues, integration with other therapeutic techniques, and a cultural shift towards valuing self-exploration and personal growth.

Contemporary depth therapy practitioners often incorporate various techniques into their practice, adapting traditional methods to modern needs and making depth approaches more accessible. Short-term dynamic psychotherapies, for instance, are now better researched and understood, bridging traditional depth therapy's intensive, long-term nature and the desire for more immediate results (Abbass et al., 2009).

Depth therapy's resurgence reflects a broader trend in the mental health field toward valuing a deeper understanding of the self and the intricacies of the human psyche. While still facing challenges in terms of wide acceptance, especially in an era where quick fixes are often sought, depth therapy provides an essential counterbalance to the fast-paced, symptom-focused approaches that currently dominate the field.

Root Cause Exploration

Depth therapy, through its various forms, including psychoanalytic, Jungian, and existential psychodynamic therapy, seeks to explore and understand the more profound, often unconscious, motivations that shape an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The process is an intimate exploration of the self, intending to uncover the root causes of psychological distress.

Exploration of the Unconscious: The unconscious mind is a central concept in depth therapy. Freud’s psychoanalytic theory posits that the unconscious holds desires, impulses, and memories that are too painful or disturbing for the conscious mind to handle. These repressed contents can influence current behavior and mental health (Freud, 1923). Therapists might use dream interpretation techniques to decode the unconscious's symbolic language. Jung expanded on this by exploring archetypes and the collective unconscious, proposing that universal, symbolic images and themes are shared among all humans (Jung, 1959).

Attachment and Early Life Experiences: Depth therapists often explore an individual’s early life experiences and attachment patterns. According to attachment theory, the quality of the early caregiver-child bond significantly impacts emotional development and future relational patterns (Bowlby, 1969). Disruptions in this attachment can lead to a range of psychological issues. By revisiting and reprocessing these foundational experiences, individuals can begin to understand and heal from these early wounds.

Intrapsychic and Interpersonal Conflicts: In Freudian terms, a significant aspect of psychodynamic theory involves intrapsychic conflicts and internal battles between different parts of the psyche, such as the id, ego, and superego. These conflicts can manifest in various defense mechanisms—such as repression, denial, or projection—which operate on an unconscious level to manage psychological pain but can lead to symptoms like anxiety or depression when overused or maladaptive (Vaillant, 1992).


Depth therapy also examines interpersonal relationships and how early patterns of interaction can be repeated in adult life. Transference and countertransference during therapy sessions become a crucial part of the therapeutic work, as they can reveal these patterns in a controlled environment where they can be analyzed and understood (Freud, 1912/1958).

The Role of Emotions and Affect Regulation: Therapists in this tradition emphasize the importance of emotions and their regulation. They aim to help clients become more aware of their emotions, understand their emotional responses, and develop healthier ways of managing their feelings. The theory is that by integrating these emotions into conscious awareness, individuals can resolve internal conflicts and reduce symptoms (Greenson, 1967).

Existential and Spiritual Concerns: Depth therapy also addresses existential concerns—questions about life’s meaning, isolation, freedom, and mortality. For example, Yalom’s existential psychotherapy emphasizes the importance of confronting these fundamental aspects of human existence to achieve psychological growth (Yalom, 1980).

Narrative and Storytelling: Another aspect is the exploration of an individual’s life narrative. Therapists help clients construct coherent life stories, making sense of past events and their impact on the present and future. This narrative work helps develop a sense of identity and understanding of life patterns (McAdams, 1997).

Techniques and Integration: Depth therapy is not a one-size-fits-all approach and often integrates various techniques tailored to the individual’s needs. Psychodynamic therapists may use expressive therapies like art or writing to access unconscious material. Contemporary approaches might incorporate mindfulness and body-centered techniques to help individuals connect with their emotional experiences in the present moment (Shapiro, 2009).

By working through these deep-seated issues, depth therapy strives for profound and long-lasting change, facilitating a restructuring of the personality and not just symptom alleviation. The therapeutic journey can be long and challenging, but it is seen as a path to genuine self-discovery and healing.


Depth therapy, a therapeutic approach that aims to address the root causes of psychological distress, is inherently integrative, combining elements of psychodynamic theory, existential contemplation, and cognitive examination. It draws upon a deep understanding of the human psyche to unravel the complex web of influences that shape an individual's mental health.

Psychodynamic therapy, a cornerstone of depth therapy, emphasizes the role of unconscious processes and past experiences in shaping current behavior (Shedler, 2010). Through techniques such as dream analysis and free association, therapists guide clients in uncovering hidden patterns and unresolved conflicts stemming from childhood, which often manifest in adult relationships and behaviors. This exploration provides insights into the client's inner world, offering a pathway to understanding and transforming deeply ingrained emotional struggles.

Addressing resistance in psychotherapy is a significant aspect of the therapeutic process. Resistance often emerges when clients face the daunting task of confronting painful or conflict-ridden aspects of their psyche. Therapists must navigate this resistance with empathy and skill, facilitating a space where clients can engage with their defenses without judgment, thereby encouraging insight and change (Rudden et al., 2006).

Exploring choices, styles, and sensitivities in psychotherapy acknowledges the individuality of each client's experience. Tailoring the therapeutic approach to match the client's unique personality, preferences, and life experiences is paramount. It involves a collaborative effort to identify the client's strengths and vulnerabilities, leveraging these insights to empower the client in making healthier choices and fostering personal growth (Norcross & Wampold, 2011).

Addressing cognitive biases in therapeutic practice underscores the importance of recognizing and challenging the cognitive distortions that can influence one's emotional well-being and decision-making. Depth therapy aims to help clients gain awareness of these biases, facilitating reevaluating their beliefs and assumptions and encouraging more adaptive thinking patterns (Leahy, 2017).

The client-therapist relationship is the fulcrum upon which the success of depth therapy rests. It serves as a microcosm of the client's external relationships, providing a reflective surface against which clients can safely test new behaviors, build trust, and work through attachment issues (Farber et al., 1995). In this therapeutic alliance, clients can experience corrective emotional experiences, essential for healing past relational wounds and developing healthier interpersonal dynamics.

In conclusion, depth therapy is a dynamic and multifaceted approach that seeks to bring to light the underlying issues contributing to psychological distress. Through a deep engagement with the client's history, emotions, cognitive processes, and relational patterns, depth therapists work to catalyze profound and lasting change, fostering resilience and a more authentic sense of self.



Abbass, A., Kisely, S., & Kroenke, K. (2009). Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy for somatic disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 78(5), 265–274.

Farber, B. A., Lippert, R. A., & Nevas, D. B. (1995). The therapist as attachment figure. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 32(2), 204-212.

Freud, S. (1912/1958). The dynamics of transference. In J. Strachey (Ed. & Trans.), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 12, pp. 97-108). London: Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1912)

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Hofmann, S. G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I. J., Sawyer, A. T., & Fang, A. (2012). The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5), 427–440.

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Kernberg, O. (1975). Borderline conditions and pathological narcissism. Jason Aronson.

Leahy, R. L. (2017). Cognitive therapy techniques: A practitioner's guide (2nd ed.). Guilford Press.

Leichsenring, F., Abbass, A., Luyten, P., Hilsenroth, M., & Rabung, S. (2013). The efficacy of psychodynamic therapy in specific mental disorders: A 2013 update of empirical evidence. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 49(1), 89–130.

Norcross, J. C., & Wampold, B. E. (2011). Evidence-based therapy relationships: Research conclusions and clinical practices. Psychotherapy, 48(1), 98–102.

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Schore, A. N. (2012). The science of the art of psychotherapy (Norton series on interpersonal neurobiology). W. W. Norton & Company.

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